John McCain is a clever guy, more capable of wordplay than your average politician. But lately he’s been bedeviled by double meanings that aren’t necessarily his intention. Exhibit one: his latest book, “Hard Call,” whose title has been invoked as a (sarcastic) comment on his Iraq position as much as a statement about the decisions depicted as the book. Exhibit two: his carefully timed “No Surrender Tour” this week, which the campaign is pushing as an Iraq War pep rally, but whose moniker also suggests McCain’s own stubborn refusal to roll over and be the Nth-tier candidate the media keeps insisting he is.
His debate performance last week did show some spunk, but almost entirely in terms of style rather than in any kind of retooled message or ideas. He’s learned to sound more contrite on immigration, but he hasn’t changed his policy position. And, of course, the man loves him some surge, and he has ever since it was announced — and announced to be substantially less of a surge than he said he favored.
He’s the only GOP candidate who is so publicly hitching his star to Petraeus’s wagon. Other R hopefuls show varying degrees of support for the venture, but every other major candidate has decided to keep a decidedly lower profile this week. We’ll see how McCain’s decision resonates with voters — unless, of course, we’ve already seen it. This stance is not exactly a new one for the Arizona senator.
Supporters of the war (not McCain, necessarily) on the Hill say that what’s different this time is that the public is, maybe, less put off than they were. Indeed, polls suggest that voters aren’t opposed to the war so much as despondent and, well, jaded: They believe that the military is the organization best equipped to oversee the occupation and 63% have confidence in Petraeus’s recommendations, but 58% they also believe Petraeus will sugarcoat things (or, in the words of the survey, “will try to make things look better than they are”). Since most Americans believe that the surge has had no impact, one supposes that at least they don’t think he’s outright lying, just stretching the truth.
At least one supporter also cites another difference between this week and the public’s view of the war in the past: Today, he says, the war is independently unpopular from the president. Well, he didn’t put it exactly that way. What he said was that war supporters have to be careful to not be seen as being in line with the President. In other words, Bush is so unpopular, he’s dragging down support for the surge.